Men’s Spiritual Leadership And The Bible

One of the most overused, misunderstood, and confusing things in the church is the idea of leadership.  This is especially true when it comes to men in relation to women. It’s my hope today to make that even more confusing.  Just kidding.  Maybe.

Before we get biblical so to speak, let me throw out three simple thoughts on leadership. Being a leader is not super complicated.  It requires really two main things.  First you have to be going somewhere.  Second, someone has to be following you.  Just because you strike out in a direction does not make you a leader.  That just makes you going somewhere, which is great.  But to be a leader means that you actually lead others.

Secondly, it’s also important to note that leadership is not contingent upon being a “good” person.  That would make you a “good” leader in a sense.  But as I’ve mentioned before you can be a bad person and an effective leader.  Hitler had a ton of followers.  As awful as that was it would be ridiculous to say that he was not a leader.

Jesus was of course the greatest leader in history by any definition of the term.  He changed the world order.  As a follower of Jesus our hope is that we can lead people towards Him and His kingdom.  Which brings us to point three – we have to first be a follower of Him in order to lead towards Him.  I want to clarify that before we start looking at leading others because even though we can learn a lot about leadership from looking at Jesus and how He led, if we aren’t actually following Him then really we aren’t going to the right direction to begin with.  And remember, direction matters.

Now all of that seems pretty straight forward.  So why is it that we are all so confused in the context of singleness and marriage?  There are a lot of reasons.

Some of it has to do with the fact that in order to sound more with the times in our culture we have sort of used the word leadership in some places that aren’t necessarily biblical. They sound biblical but they add to the confusion.

One of the places this happens is when we say that the man is the spiritual leader of the household when he is married.

What most people refer to is the scripture in Ephesians 5:22-33.  Paul is giving instruction to the people of Ephesus about life and in this particular part talks about husbands and wives.  He says that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ as the head of the church.  He commands the husbands to love and give themselves up for their wives and wives to submit to and respect their husbands.

Now whole books have been written about this and I have only a few hundred words here so we are going to keep it in the context of our conversation here.

The first thing to note is that this is not conditional.  Just as the vows you take on your wedding day are not conditional.  When you make the vows you don’t say, “I promise to love and cherish and not forsake you if you do these certain things”.  No your promise is unconditional.  Until death.  That’s the vow.  It’s a covenant not a contract. This is similar. Paul doesn’t say, “Husbands love your wife if you feel in love” or “Love your wife if your romantically attracted at the time” or “love your wife if she is nice to you”.  Nor does he say, “Wives submit to your husband when you feel like its a good idea” or “submit to your husband if he’s earned it that day”.  It’s a command for each person regardless of the situation.*

The second thing to note here is that the word leadership isn’t used. The word head is used to name the role, and the instructions to the man (instructions for the head) describe what he is to do.  But nowhere is he called the leader.  It’s not that he doesn’t lead.  As the head, Christ leads the church – by loving it no matter what.  But he does have positional authority.  Leading is a part of the job description, but it’s not the job title.

Now here is where everyone freaks out.  We don’t like that.  So what happens is one of the following:

Some say, “It talks about mutually submitting before that . . . ”  That is just a terrible argument.  You can say, “What was true for Ephesus isn’t true now.” That’s an argument.  I disagree with it.  But that makes some sense and I can respect it.  But pretending Paul doesn’t mean what he says is weak and intellectually dishonest.

Some want to abuse it.  This happens when we give men the role (head) without the instructions (love, give your self up etc).  This is where men can abuse their position.  This has for sure happened throughout history and still happens today.

But most in evangelical culture today want to say essentially, “Men, this is your position, if you do everything right and earn it.  Your wife will let you know when that is.”  I know that’s a little sarcastic.  But this is really does seem to be the message.  Do it all right and then it will all go right.  That last sentence is dangerous on a lot of levels.

We like the term “spiritual leader” because it sounds better than head.  But what we end up telling guys is: If you lead well, you’ll be the head.  What we need to instead say is: you’re the head, so lead well.  When we get this wrong, we basically want men to take on the responsibilities that he has without giving him the role that he should have.  Why would anyone want that?

Once you’re married – from a biblical perspective, you’re the head.  You can either be a good one or a bad one and your wife is not necessarily the grade card on that.

Wow! We just covered a lot of ground not very deeply.  You still might be thinking, “what in the heck does this have to do with me the single man?”  In my next post I’ll give you some thoughts on why how you view this is so important.  For now I’d ask you to think about exactly that.  How do you view all of this?

*I understand that there may be extreme conditions that would be exceptions – such as abuse etc. but we have turned everything into an exception and it isn’t working out well.

The Big Decision

A little while back I was leading a small group discussion about sex and dating as it relates to working with adolescents.  Various ages of people were in the group.  Let’s call it 19-30. None of them were married (which makes sense because 80% of people in that age range aren’t).

It’s always interesting to me in these type of conversations to see what people talk about. Two things almost always rise to the surface.  First is that everyone knows that sex outside of marriage is wrong.  That message in the church is pretty clear.

But the second thing that always comes out is that people are lost on most everything else. No one knows what to do as far as dating and marriage and the messages are so mixed that confusion reigns.

The church’s message and the worlds message has become completely entangled.  The church thinks it’s being different, but really they are mostly being confusing – except of course for the sex part.

We are ok at telling people what to do in marriage.  Not great, but ok.  But my goodness our message to the unmarried is crazy.

We leave celibacy out completely which creates a giant vacuum in the conversation.  Most protestants don’t even know what it means.  We then assign the gift of singleness to all the unmarried people.  This of course screws over both those who have the gift and those who don’t.

But today I want to tackle and maybe cut through a different point of confusion.

This starts with the idea that we can avoid divorce or marriage disfunction by choosing the perfect person to marry, otherwise known as the “one” God has for us.  This of course creates the fear of choosing wrong.  So the goal is to get married – but only to the right person.

I can remember being taught (and teaching) that the second biggest decision you will ever make is who you marry.  The biggest decision of course was what you do with Jesus.

I get the point of this platitude.  You can add in all the other things we get told along this line as singles.  “Better to be alone than marry the wrong person”, “God will bring you the right one at the right time.”  I could go on, but you get the idea.

The idea here is seek marriage but be really careful.  There is truth in that.  But taken even a little to far it moves from caution to fear and/or unfair standards.

Here’s what I mean.  If we are waiting for THE ONE then we start getting into our heads what that ONE should be like and anyone who doesn’t match that we dismiss.  That leads to this weird sort of consumer dating where people are really good for us, but they just aren’t the right one.

But maybe worse, I think we have created a false fear.  We end up creating this huge pressure situation.  I mean if the second biggest decision ever, for all time, is the person you marry – how can you be sure you are making the right decision?

Let me offer a different view.

First, there is not THE ONE – or any of her cousins (the right one, God’s one, the one for me, my soulmate, the perfect match, the one God has for me, etc…)

Second, marriage is a choice – a decision.  But who you marry is only a part of that choice. Here’s what I mean.  You make a decision that you are called to be married.  In other words you are not called to celibacy. Then there is a decision to pursue that.  Then there are the qualifiers that you are looking for – the type of person.

Now when you stand in front at your wedding you get to make another choice. That is you make vows before God to this other person.  Now this actually is the big decision, regardless of who is standing there.  Marriage is not a contract. There is a legal contract but that really is irrelevant in some ways.  Marriage is meant to be a covenant and sacrament before God.

When you say these vows you are choosing to make a promise.  You are deciding that you will love, honor and cherish this person no matter what and in all circumstances.  Once you make that decision now you get to make a series of decisions over the rest of your life – the choice of whether or not to honor those vows – regardless of what else happens.  And you get to make that BIG decision over and over again.

Love is a choice – a decision.  Feeling love isn’t.  Attraction isn’t.  But love is. Otherwise God wouldn’t be able to command it.  No where in the bible does God command a feeling.

The funny thing is that until recently in history, a lot of times people didn’t really get to choose who they married.  Most of them were teenagers.  And yet everything in the scripture about marriage was true for them.  They were called to the biblical principles of marriage.  They had to choose whether or not to follow them.  Same deal today.

We get to choose who we marry.  It is a big deal and it is a powerful picture of both choosing someone and being chosen.  But it’s only part of an endless series of decisions. It isn’t the final decision and when we make it that we are setting ourselves up for failure, both as singles and as marrieds.